S-s-supporting the Brazos Water Snake

S-s-supporting the Brazos Water Snake

There is a type of snake that only resides in one small area of the s-s-state, the upper portion of the Brazos River. 

Photo courtesy of Dustin McBride

The Brazos Water Snake is a nonvenomous friendly resident of our beloved river that’s had little research on its species. You can help protect this fish-eating treasure by not harming the Nerodia harteri and by reporting any sightings. 

The Brazos Water Snake is recognized as threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is protected by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, and is just one of four species of interest considered threatened in the Brazos River basin.

“He’s part of the environment and the food chain,” said Tiffany Malzahn, Brazos River Authority environmental and compliance manager. “When you take something out that tends to be there, it tends to cause disruptions. No one’s really given him a comprehensive look across his known range in probably 25 years. There’s been little spot studies here or there. But no one’s looked to see overall how he’s doing.”

The Brazos River Authority’s Environmental Services Department regularly monitors the status of different fish and wildlife species as a way of tracking the health of the Brazos River basin ecosystem. The Brazos Water Snake is no exception. In September 2022, the BRA Board of Directors authorized a $650,000, three-year phased contract with BioWest Inc. for research on the snake. The BRA isn’t the only one working on a comprehensive review, Malzahn said. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are working in conjunction with the BRA to study the snake, ensuring each is taking complementary data to package information.

Photo courtesy of Dustin McBride

What little current research exists shows the species population in decline. As seen with other aquatic and semi-aquatic species across the country, the construction and operation of dams are one of the primary causes of the species decline identified by the academic community and environmental special interest groups, Malzahn said.

The public can help by reporting sightings of the Brazos Water Snake here.

“Please don’t kill it,” Malzahn said. “Not all snakes are bad. They provide a very vital environmental function for us. The mentality, ‘The only good snake is a dead snake,’ is a dangerous and dumb one. Trust me, they don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them.”

A daytime hunter, this reclusive creature can usually be found around rocks and enjoys eating small fish and a variety of salamanders, frogs, and crayfish.

“Usually 2 to 2½ feet long, the Brazos water snake is light brown with four rows of olive-brown spots on its back. Brazos water snakes can be distinguished from cottonmouths by this pattern and a rounded head and pupils; the cottonmouth has a more triangular head and cat-like pupils. Brazos water snakes are also slenderer than the generally plump cottonmouth.” – Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. “When encountered or startled, Brazos water snakes almost always head straight into the water. (When in doubt, just give any water snake some distance and it will leave you alone.).”

Animals considered threatened, such as the Brazos Water Snake, are categorized as such with the belief they are likely to become endangered in the near future. Currently, threatened species known to occur in parts of the Brazos basin are: the Brazos Water Snake, the Salado Creek Salamander, the Jollyville Plateau Salamander, and the Alligator Snapping Turtle.

Photo courtesy of Dustin McBride

Studies could show the Brazos Water Snake is happy, healthy, and numerous. But if not, the BRA is helping the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on a potential conservation plan.

“We’re hoping the data we gather on him will allow us to do a better job for him,” Malzahn said. “The information will help ensure we’re doing what’s best for the snake as well as protecting the water resources of the Brazos River basin.”